During the tenure of John Beilein, Michigan basketball was able to pride itself on constant development. Players would often show enormous growth in their second year under coach Beilein, going sometimes from limited contributors to full scale stars.
Nik Stauskas went from three-point sniper to all-around star, Trey Burke went from streaky point guard to National Player of the Year, and Moritz Wagner went from 8.6 minutes per game to starting all 38 of Michigan’s contests in his sophomore year.
Beilein is no longer here, however. In his place is Juwan Howard, who comes after six years as an assistant with the Miami Heat. Howard will try to replicate Beilein’s aptitude to develop talent, although in his own way.
He inherits four sophomores, each looking to make improvements to their own individual skill-sets. With all that Michigan lost last season, it is expected that each of these players will be called upon to provide a contribution that far outweighs what they were asked to do last season.
Here’s how you can expect each of the four sophomores to develop, as well as what their role may look like:
Brandon Johns Jr.
Johns comes in as arguably the biggest wild-card on the team. After getting just 4.1 minutes per game a year ago, much is still yet to be seen. In the time he did get, Johns averaged just 0.8 points per game.
Though those statistics may look underwhelming, coming into this season Johns has drawn rave reviews. Here’s what Howard had to say about Johns in an interview with the Lansing State Journal:
“Brandon, the kid has a beautiful shot. (He’s) athletic, he skill-wise hasn’t tapped all the way into what he has. Once he figures that part out, whoa, this kid is interesting.”
When it comes to his development, expect Howard to give Johns every opportunity to show off his skill set. Johns has the build to play both on the wing and in the paint, allowing him to contribute in multiple ways.
If Johns lives up to his skill-set and athletic ability, it will be hard for him to be kept off the floor. If he’s healthy, he looks like the guy who might be starting at the four.
Verdict: Increased playing time, with a chance to become an important piece on both ends of the floor.
Of the four sophomores, Castleton was given the most opportunity late in the season. The 6-foot-11 center from Daytona Beach had a coming-out party against Nebraska at home, and got minutes in crucial games such as Maryland and Michigan State late in the season. It appeared as if Beilein was gaining confidence in his freshman big man late in the year.
If there is anyone that feels both sides of the coaching switch, it is likely that nobody feels it more than Castleton. On one end, it appeared as if he was set to play a big role in Beilein’s small, athletic, perimeter oriented offense. However, with Howard in, he now gets to work with a 19-year NBA veteran.
Castleton is another name we heard quite a bit during the offseason, as he had an impressive summer in the weight room. According to MLive, Castleton added 25 pounds and reached 12 feet on his vertical jump.
With Jon Teske returning for his senior campaign, it is unlikely that Castleton will get a starter’s share of minutes. However, he probably will be the first big man off the bench and should develop an arsenal of post moves to go along with a jump shot that allegedly adequate stroke from outside.
Verdict: Solid summer and Howard’s tutelage leads to increased scoring and improved defense.
DeJulius returns after playing in 25 games and averaging 0.6 points per game. Although Zavier Simpson has the starting point guard position locked in, there will be plenty of opportunities for DeJulius to get on the floor.
For starters, freshman Franz Wagner will miss the beginning of the season with a wrist injury. Wagner was predicted to be get a starter’s share of minutes right off the bat, so his unfortunate injury frees up minutes that DeJulius could snatch if he performs well during preseason practices. He will likely compete for those minutes with junior Eli Brooks and fellow sophomore Adrien Nunez.
DeJulius will likely start the year coming off the bench with an increase in minutes. An ideal year for DeJulius would involve Brooks transitioning to shooting guard, allowing him to be the lone backup point guard and be Howard’s option in the rare occasions where Simpson needs a break.
This is a big learning year for DeJulius. Michigan welcomes in point guard recruit Zeb Jackson next season, and as talented as Jackson is, it is unlikely that Howard will be able to keep him off the floor for too long if DeJulius struggles. It is pivotal that DeJulius gets better both on and off the floor this season for Michigan as next seasons’ competition waits in the wings.
Verdict: DeJulius learns from Simpson while becoming an adequate contributor, showing flashes of greatness at times and struggling at others.
Of last year’s freshmen class, Nunez got the least playing time. Even though he was billed as a sharpshooter coming into the year, Nunez struggled from the outside, shooting just 1-13 from three-point range.
It’s likely that confidence played a part in the struggles of Nunez last season. To his benefit, he was able to play behind two of Michigan’s top three scorers last season in Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews. Now that they are gone, as mentioned before, minutes are open for the taking at the shooting guard position.
Nunez may benefit from the injury to Wagner, as he qualifies for the minutes vacated. Pairing the coaching change with the departure of Poole and Matthews, Nunez will get a chance at a fresh start to make an impression on both the coaching staff and the fan base alike.
Although he struggled from the field last season, Nunez still has the reputation of a lethal shooter. Howard mentioned in an article published by News 7 that Nunez is one of the best shooters on the squad. The next step for Nunez is to display that stroke in a game.
Verdict: Nunez recieves an uptick in playing time and becomes a good option off the bench, contributing a spark offensively through consistent shooting.